Aqua

The Westin Tampa Bay 7627 Courtney Campbell Causeway Tampa, FL 33607(813) 675-8700 • aquatampa.com

aqua

Located in the Westin Hotel, and on the water (as the name suggests), this restaurant manages to pack a few surprises ranging from sushi, which one might expect based on its affiliation with the H2O, all the way to flatbread, which has very little to do with water by my estimation.

The first surprise coming in the form of a California roll. And probably one of the best I’ve ever had, mostly because the crab wasn’t that canned shit. Or that fake crap either. Oh no, they go for the real deal and you can definitely taste the fingerprint of the ocean in every morsel. Along with fresh avocado, cucumber and flying fish roe.

The Tuscan flat bread was also a winner, proving to be more well balanced than one might expect, topped with artichokes, grilled onions, asparagus, and oven-dried tomatoes, all smothered in mozzarella and sauced with a bright, basil pesto.

Then the missteps waltzed in, like the brioche crusted mahi. The crust is so overpowering that I had to scrape it off, just so I could actually taste the fish. Also, the fregola couscous and spiced red pepper puree do little for the dish as well. That said, don’t miss the watercress and pumpkin salad to the side. That’s the real star on the plate. I recommend pealing off the crust and pairing up some of that salad with every bite and you’ll be a much happier camper. Or take the easy way out and just order the scallops.

The scallops where prepared in a dark, almost squid ink-like sauce, and paired up with a wonderful mound of spicy-ass Thai black rice. Me like.

We closed with a bowl of begniets, drizzled with ribbons of chocolate and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They are nothing spectacular, but they do get by on the simple fact that they are fried dough. That said, if you are looking for more from your dessert, look elsewhere.

So I’m gonna go out on a rare, kind-hearted limb here and give it three knives, by in large due to my lowered expectations… and the fact that I had a few too many glasses of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, which I normally don’t even like as a grape. Who knew? But deep down, I really do want to give Aqua only two knives in my heart of hearts, because of the major miss on the mahi, the unintentionally cheesy Miami Vice decor and the service, which is slim shady, calling the soy sauce that came with our sushi “teriyaki” and not knowing a single alcohol they had at the bar.

3 teeth

Vine

851 Avenue Of The Americas New York, NY 10001(212) 201-4065 eventihotel.com

The Vine - Eventi Hotel in NYC 2015

One of the lesser-known gems in the area can be found in the back of the Eventi Hotel, which to be fair is one of the lesser-known hotels in the city. Yet deep within this vortex of obscurity lies an admirably appointed décor with cozy nooks for seating, warm, natural elements and huge windows that open up to a courtyard as opposed to the street (pictured), making for a relatively Zen dining experience.

The menu also got off on the right foot with a salmon entrée cooked perfectly, served over a bed of supped up cous cous and tzatziki sauce. It’s clean livin’ and tasty too. Wash that down with a slightly sweet Arnold Palmer and you could do a lot worse. Sure, it’s no Ilili if we’re comparing Middle Eastern/Mediterranean in the area, but it’s way easier to get a table and I find the décor much more inviting as opposed to the ironically more hotel-like vibe at Ilili.

On the guiltier side of things, the gelato is actually quite atrocious. So much so that I feel the need to outwardly shame our server for even recommending it, much less swooning about it as if it were the reincarnation of the Cup of Life.

But, on the alcoholier side, I have to give it up again to the Vine for going big on the spice and not going home in terms of their Bloody Mary. I love when places say fuck all and do what a Bloody Mary was meant to do, regardless of mass appeal. Because as the saying goes, the masses are asses, and greatness seldom lies at the feet of consensus. Okay, things are getting a bit preachy up in here for a food blog. Gonna dial it back and go out on a solid three.

3 teeth

Greens

Fort Mason Bldg. A San Francisco, CA 94123(415) 771-6222greensrestaurant.com

Chocolate-Cherry-Ice-Cream-Sandwich-640x480

It’s not the easiest place to find in the world, but seldom do the best things in life come easy, and Greens is easily one of the best vegetarian eateries on God’s green Earth. So, now that I’ve fully conjugated the word “easy” and slid a blasphemous pun in there for good measure, let me top things off with a twist on a dated phrase – Yes, Greens is all that and a bucket of chicken, without the chicken. From the earth-sourced decor with tables that look more like trees to the stunning view of the bay and Golden Gate beyond, you can see that this place takes the whole au naturale thing pretty serious, not that you have to dine in the nude or anything, although an intriguing restaurant concept for certain.

Speaking of intrigue, it is astounding how quickly this place will make you forget all about meat. Just one bite of their grilled cheese sammy with cremini mushrooms, harissa and fontina and you will understand why the Earth is worth saving, apart from the obvious reasons like living here and mankind ceasing to exist.

The side of couscous salad with peppers and raisins had the spicy-sweet thing going on and only served to make things even more irresistible. Their other salads are fantastic as well. In fact, we were so impressed by Greens we purchased their cookbook on the spot. Not something we often do, which should speak volumes about this place. But please don’t go based on the food mentioned above. The menu is always changing, but in such capable hands, I doubt you’ll go wrong. And if you do, it’s probably your fault.

4 teeth